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Neko Rescue Tale Review

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We’re going to pin it on lockdown. A bizarrely large number of games that we’ve played this year have featured cats. And it’s only going to get worse, as we build up to the Xbox release of Stray. Our theory is that these games were made during lockdown, when cats were our friends. Game developers shrugged their shoulders, said ‘alrighty then’ and stuck their furred friends into their titles. 

Neko Rescue Tale has you playing a little grey tabby on the hunt for their kitty friend. Like a true cat, Neko has no moral compunction whatsoever, and is willing to kill hundreds – possibly thousands – of animals to find them, from snakes to mice to sheep (Neko is quite the hunter). We’ve known cats to bring us decapitated sparrows as a kind of house-warming gift, so it feels on point. 

neko rescue tale review 1
Neko Rescue Tale is a platforming delight… to look at

You see, Neko Rescue Tale is a 2D platformer where the aim is to kill every last living creature on the screen. We know this is a video game and deserves a little poetic licence, but it’s a little chilling when you think about it. Progression is gated behind an utter massacre. All in the name of friendship, of course. 

To pull this off, little Neko (we assume Neko refers to the main cat, although, now that we think about it, Neko might be the cat we’re rescuing) has a couple of moves in their repertoire. They can jump on beasts’ heads, as a kind of Mario bottom bounce. And they can swipe a paw at incoming enemies, one-shotting them into animal heaven. There’s a jump, too, but you expected that.

Levels are no more than four or five screens in length, with platforms and enemies on those platforms. Sheep hop up and down in the same place, wolves move from side to side, and seagulls hover. And there are the mice. Oh, the mice. They move faster than Neko and are complete and utter bastards. Hopping on them isn’t going to happen, as they’re simply too fast; and swiping them means you need to anticipate where they will be, as the close-quarters attack is on the slow side. Mice sent us back to the start of a level more often than we care to admit. 

As the sixty levels go on, some obstacles get thrown in, like spiky wrecking balls and spinning blades, but most of the hazard comes from the enemies. Waiting for the right time to drop onto their platform, killing the right one first, and choosing the attack to do it, is the name of the game in Neko Rescue Tale. Often that means bottom-bouncing the big dumb enemies before settling into a position where you are safe from that sodding mouse. Then you wait, and pounce. 

neko rescue tale review 2
60 levels feels a struggle

Art-wise, we like Neko Rescue Tale a lot. Sure, it’s the same pixel art that we see on every other game on the Xbox Store. But there’s polish and detail here, as well as some sweetly adorable animal characters (to murder, mwa ha ha!). How Neko Rescue Tale looks is the least of its problems. 

Let’s move to the biggest of its problems. Neko Rescue Tale isn’t the slightest bit fun to play. Every level felt like another furball that we were going to have to cough up. The sixty levels felt like a sentence.

Neko’s attacks are a big reason for that. The swipe attack is one of the worst we’ve encountered. It’s a pathetic little poke that is smaller in width than the actual cat, so you have to be incredibly close to your enemy for it to pull off a kill. If an enemy is walking away from you, you have to effectively give up on it, because as soon as you’re close enough to hit it, the swipe is slowly executed and the slug, bear or whatever has already moved away. So, a lot of Neko Rescue Tale is spent waiting for enemies to turn around and walk back to you. 

And lest we forget about the cursed mice. There’s an infinitesimally small window when you can hit it, as it races towards you. Heaven help you if two are on the way at once: they bounce off each other in random, unpredictable manners, making it even more improbable that you will survive. Who knew that bears and wolves weren’t the real threats to a cat – it was mice?

There’s some odd collision detection going on with the platforming, as we felt sure that we were short on a jump, only for us to magically appear there anyway. Which is useful, as a missed jump almost always spells death, but also confusing, as we never quite felt sure of whether a leap was do-able or not. Leaps of faith were very much a part of Neko Rescue Tale. 

neko rescue tale review 3
Collision detection isn’t the best

When the platforming and combat doesn’t feel great, the worst thing you can do is make the game unforgiving, and unforgiving it is. There are no life points or lives: each level needs to be completed perfectly in one shot. Get hit by a mouse, outwitted by the collision detection, or even – and this is special to Neko Rescue Tale – get stuck in locations that you can’t get out of, because the levels have dead ends, and you are whisked back to the start to do it all again. When the level involves a lot of waiting for enemies to turn around, and largely random encounters with fast enemies, that isn’t often reminiscent of ‘fun’.

What’s made worse is how disempowering it feels. Look at a level, and it couldn’t look easier. A few enemies on a flat plane, with barely an obstacle surrounding them. That’s the kicker. Levels don’t look challenging at all, but it’s the inelegance of the combat and the jumping that means that difficulty comes as standard. We never felt like a champ having completed a level. We mostly felt like we’d just got out of our own way. 

If you’ve been lured in by the cat, then you should probably know that Neko Rescue Tale has all the worst aspects of one. It gives you a false sense of security by looking cute, curling up in your lap. But once you start playing with it, the claws come out, as poor level design, collision detection, platforming and – most of all – combat all cause blood to flow. Neko Rescue Tale is a cute platformer, but it’s got zero interest in making you feel good.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Well made, adorable pixel art
  • Sixty levels is plenty
Cons:
  • Combat is some of the worst we’ve encountered
  • Platforming feels inaccurate
  • Failure states are excessively punishing
  • Levels feel mostly the same
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Eastasiasoft
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Release date and price - 26 April 2023 | £4.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Well made, adorable pixel art</li> <li>Sixty levels is plenty</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Combat is some of the worst we’ve encountered</li> <li>Platforming feels inaccurate</li> <li>Failure states are excessively punishing</li> <li>Levels feel mostly the same</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Eastasiasoft</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch <li>Release date and price - 26 April 2023 | £4.19</li> </ul>Neko Rescue Tale Review
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